Torture and We’re Number 1?
By Britt Towery, San Angelo, TX
Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has criticized Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain’s opposition to the U.S. government’s use of torture.
That’s right. Supporting torture appears to be an important issue for Dobson and many of the Christian Right. Dobson’s radio broadcasts, heard locally, have for years faithfully relayed information useful to families and the challenge of Christian living. Where does torture fit into such programs?
In an exclusive with the Wall Street Journal of April 2, Dobson did not explain his approval of torture or how it relates to the Christian life. “How he contorts Christian theology to justify [this] is a puzzle.” writes Robert Parham of EthicsDaily.com.
If this pro-torture stand was Dobson’s alone there would be little attention paid to it. But last month an ethics professor, Daniel R. Heimback, at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, favors torture much as Dobson does. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders also favor torture. A Baptist Press (BP) release reported that to oppose torture “threatens to undermine Christian moral witness in contemporary culture.” They went on to say that situation ethics necessitates that sometimes torture is the right thing to do.
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) recently released a statement that the United States has crossed the “boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible” in the “war on terror.” (The paper’s title is “An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror.”)
Heimback says such talk from the NAE undermines the Christian moral witness. Nothing could be more confusing to people in the pew than to have a professor of ethics speak out in favor of torture. Heimback is not for using “inherently evil methods, only using force on those involved in violence against us.” He is advocating lowering ourselves to the indecent level of those who torture. Torture them because they torture us. How does a Christian teacher ignore the overriding attitude of the New Testament and the value of “turning the other cheek”? Or, “love your enemies”?
Supporting just wars are acceptable to many people, but torture of a suspected enemy goes beyond the pale. As a former Southern Baptist, I wonder what such remarks tell the world about Christian beliefs? Torture, as a method, has always been condemned by our government and churches until the “war on terror” began.
Albert Mohler, president of another SBC seminary argues that torture cannot be condoned except in circumstances when it might be necessary. It is too seldom noted how the torturer is affected. The emotional trauma of those ordered to use torture is too often ignored. Horrors that are not easily erased. From the testimonies of men who have been ordered to torture many end up embarrassed and wracked by guilt. The more they contemplate what they did to other human beings, brings depression and often worse experiences.
Governments for centuries have made claims that they do not torture. The “ticking time bomb” scenario of the TV series “24” exploits this excuse for torture. Under torture most people say what the torturer wants to hear.
Another claim (read: excuse) is “it’s an emergency.” Egypt declared such an emergency in 1981. It is still in force, and torture is common.
Another claim: “They don’t deserve better.” Many of our citizens use this excuse. The present administration says they are not prisoners of war and made up the term: “unlawful combatants.” The Geneva Conventions do not apply to the invented term. Recent memos reveal torture was approved higher up than sergeants and captains.
“It is not really torture” is another attempt to deny our government tortures the enemy. It is simply “enhanced interrogation.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights forbids both torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Pain by any other name is still pain.
Supreme Court Justice Brandeis shares this insight: “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole of the people by its example. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law and invites every man to become a law unto itself. It breeds anarchy. To declare that the end justifies the means would bring terrible retribution.”
We’re Number 1?
With the football season approaching, we can get ready to see all kinds of weird fans on the TV screens with their index fingers pointed toward us, yelling, “We’re No. 1.”
Being No. 1 in the world also comes on strong every four years when American athletes compete in the Olympics. We go into the games knowing we are the best. No one is even close to us in any sport. (We conveniently forget about soccer.)
As Michael Ventura of the Austin Chronicle wrote last February: “No concept lies more firmly embedded in our national character than the notion that the U.S.A. is ‘No. 1,’ ‘the greatest’….Yet the delusion is ineradicable.” Mr. Ventura went on to list some 30 items he dug up that put the United States’ standings in the world to be well short of No. 1.
You don’t have to watch “20/20” or “60 Minutes” to know that most of America’s manufacturing base is all but gone. We are not much of an empire if we must borrow $2 billion a day in order to operate. Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea hold 40 percent of our government debt.
For starters: The U.S.A. is 49th in the world in literacy. When it comes to mathematical literacy, the U.S. ranks 28th out of 40 countries. Ever notice how so many of our research scientists are from Asia. Jeremy Rifkin’s well-documented book The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, found that Americans with less than nine years of education fare worse than all other countries. Our future science and space textbooks may be written in Hindi or Chinese, because 20 percent of Americans think the sun orbits around the earth. But before the Asians write our science books, it should be noted that Europe surpassed the U.S. as the largest producer of scientific literature. Future science students may have to use Bulgarian or Albanian encyclopedias.
As usual, our esteemed Congress (which raises its salary at every opportunity) cut funds for our National Science Foundation. Instead of the needed research grants, we don’t even tread water, but get far fewer grants.
Lots of Americans did not appreciate Michael Moore’s documentary on our health care, but the World Health Organization has ranked the world’s countries, and the U.S.A. ended up 37th. We spend more per person and get less. Evidence: Congress is messing with Medicare again.
There was run on a bank or two in mid-July. Folks are getting jittery about the place that holds their money. The old mattress never looked so safe. To buy one Euro you need $1.59 American money. Even Canada Maple Leafs are catching up. Only six of the 20 largest commercial banks in the world are American. This is getting somewhat repetitious and gloomy. There’s more: in a recent survey of the world’s 50 best companies, all but one were European.
Afraid to eat store-bought tomatoes? Last year it was lettuce, and the South Koreans still do not want our meat. Huge riots in Seoul tell the government to keep our beef out. Brazil now produces more beef than here. Last year Toyota began making Tundra pick-ups in San Antonio only to stop this summer because gas guzzlers don’t sell now days. GM and Ford are both laying off workers. I see where Brazil is making a car that runs on sugar cane. They have been doing it for 30 years. The U.S. is importing more food than it is exporting. Brazil has a $30 billion trade surplus, while the U.S.A. has record trade deficits. R.G. Lee’s great sermon title fits here: “Payday Someday.”
The Lottery is booming. In the U.S. more is spent on gambling than any other kind of entertainment. It is also the most costly entertainment as it makes the poor poorer and drains off money for food and shelter from those who need it most.
Torture is sometimes justified, say 43 percent of Americans. President Bush and too many senators and congressmen are apparently part of the 43 percent.
Over 79 million eligible voters did not vote in 2004. Torture and the war on terror might have been avoided, if some of the nearly 80 million who do not vote had voted. If that is all we can get to go vote then chanting “We’re No. 1” is a joke.